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How Luke Weaver went from unsuccessful starter to the Yankees’ latest relief weapon

Luke Weaver has heard the Michael King comparisons.

The Yankees’ reliever doesn’t think they’re particularly on point, even if King’s old job description matches Weaver’s new one.

“We’re not the same pitcher at all,” Weaver told the Daily News. “We couldn’t be any more different. But at the end of the day, he did a similar role, and he did a great job. He set a template for what a great job looks like in that role, and I think [the Yankees] have an idea of what success looks like.

“I don’t really look into that at all. I’m just trying to be great every time if I can. And if I’m not, I’m trying to adjust.”

Weaver has been pretty great thus far, and he’s made numerous adjustments while emerging as the Yankees’ latest reclamation relief project.

For one, he’s been a starter for the majority of his career, albeit an unsuccessful one. A former top-100 prospect, the righty had started 106 of his 144 career games while recording a 5.14 ERA prior to this season.

But with a fan in Matt Blake, Weaver impressed the Yankees over a three-start audition late last season. The 30-year-old parlayed that into a one-year, $2 million deal, which came with a 2025 club option and the chance to max out at $8.25 million based on incentives.

Looked at as a swingman when he re-signed, Weaver has only come out of the bullpen this season. He’s been excellent, recording a 2.25 ERA over 16 games and 28 innings. He’s striking hitters out 28% of the time, and they’re hitting just .141 against him.

“It’s been fun,” Weaver said of relieving. “Obviously, starting is a great gig. But being on the field is a great gig.”

Weaver most recently logged two scoreless innings against the Twins during Wednesday’s 4-0 win.

Extended outings are nothing new for him. Eight of Weaver’s appearances have lasted at least two innings and 14 have exceeded three outs, hence the comparisons to King, who worked multiple frames at a time last year before the Yankees moved him to the rotation and traded him to the Padres in the Juan Soto deal.

Weaver’s new part has come with several changes. Those made to his delivery are the most notable.

The journeyman was still using a standard leg kick last year when the Yankees claimed him from the Mariners in September. However, he abandoned that over the offseason in favor of a slide-step delivery. The idea was that it would help him healthy while improving the power, efficiency and repeatability of his movements on the mound.

Weaver also keeps his hands higher near his chest now.

“I probably blindsided them with it,” Weaver said after incorporating the slide-step at his own discretion. “I remember going out every day throwing and trying to replicate simple mechanics. And then I’d add the leg kick and I was kind of screwing it up. So from there, I just ran with what I was doing and I found ways to morph it into what felt balanced and right.”

Aaron Boone said that the “early returns” from Weaver’s mechanical tinkering “weren’t necessarily great” early in spring training, but they yielded results shortly thereafter.

“We were fine with that,” Blake added. “It didn’t impact anything stuff-wise or command-wise.”

If anything, Weaver’s pitches have only gotten better since tweaking his delivery, as well as his arsenal. As of Thursday morning, he had a Stuff+ rating of 116, which ranked 27th among pitchers who have thrown at least 20 innings this season.

Weaver has essentially become a three-pitch pitcher, using his four-seamer 43.5% of the time, his cutter 29.7% and his changeup 25.4%. All have Stuff+ ratings over 100.

Weaver has also thrown a knuckle curve this season, but only at a 1.4% clip. According to Baseball Savant, he hasn’t used the pitch in the month of May.

“The [breaking ball] he was throwing wasn’t necessarily performing as well, and there wasn’t necessarily a ton of spots for it, other than maybe some called strikes,” Blake said. “We’d like to get back to throwing a breaking ball, but in the meantime, this [pitch package] has been successful for him in the short-term.”

In the past, Weaver’s repertoire has included traditional curveballs, sliders, sweepers and even sinkers. Just last year, he threw his knuckle curve 11.8% of the time while turning to a slider or sweeper 13.6% of the time.

However, he’s been focused on his fastball, cutter and changeup. That’s left little time to refine other offerings.

“You gotta be able to self-assess what’s good, what’s not,” Weaver said. “I feel like I’ve always been pretty real with myself in my career about what’s good and what’s not good. Those [breaking] pitches, it wasn’t that they weren’t good. I just didn’t really have the time to devote to making them to the level of what other pitches were taking off and doing.”

Blake said that he and the Yankees’ pitching department talked to Weaver about ditching his breaking balls for the time being.

While some on the outside assume the Yankees simply order players to stop or start throwing a certain pitch, the coach said that’s not the case. Instead, a data-driven conversation is had. The team will lay out its reasons, preferences and lots of numbers, but that won’t mean much without buy-in from players.

“Ultimately, they’ve got to own the plan,” Blake said. “So it’s really just laying out all the information we have and then kind of leading them to the productive outcomes, hopefully.”

Weaver, who has thrown breaking balls for most of his baseball life, appreciated that approach.

“I’m always going to be someone who evaluates the why,” Weaver said. “Tell me why. Show me some reasons why. I have my own reasons. I have my own self-assessment. And it’s not that I’m disagreeing. It’s just that I want to understand where you’re coming from.”

With his main weapons doing the job, Weaver hasn’t needed a breaking ball.

His fastball has been his top pitch with a Stuff+ rating of 127, the eighth-best mark in baseball.

Blake said that Weaver’s heater has added more ride this season thanks to improved spin orientation. The pitch has also gained velocity after lacking some during spring training and the earliest parts of the season.

Weaver’s fastball is averaging 94.9 mph this year, up from 94 mph last season. He was averaging 94.6 mph this past April, but that number has climbed to 95.6 mph in May.

Blake said that warmer weather and Weaver’s increased comfort with his new delivery may have contributed to the uptick in velo. Then again, the pitcher’s new job also lends itself to that.

“He’s not necessarily coasting as a starter or being the true long guy,” Blake said. “There’s been some shorter bursts where he’s come out and been one or two innings and been able to let it go.”

Weaver agreed with all that, again emphasizing that his slide-step is helping him get more power on the mound.

But the veteran is also pitching with a poise that his numbers haven’t warranted in the past. That’s certainly made a difference, too.

“Confidence is everything,” Weaver said. “When you’re feeling good about things, you’re bound to just be able to reach back and throw the ball where you want to, for the most part.

“It’s not that I felt like I could never get to this velocity. It was just a matter of trust and belief in what I was doing.”


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